Of the numerous thousands of visitors to St Paul's Cathedral each year, how many do we suppose take a few steps across St Paul's Churchyard and venture into the ancient lanes to the south which have remained unchanged since the Cathedral was built? I suspect not more than a handful. In reality, the vast majority will not even be aware of these treasures and, without further ado, hop on to a number eleven bus back to Trafalgar Square or the Houses of Parliament.
St Paul's is one of the most popular tourist venues in London. It is also most conveniently situated about mid-way on the bus route between the West End and the Tower (number 15), both very tempting haunts to the visitor on a summery day. But the next time you descend the steps of Wren's wonderful masterpiece, let the buses go by, walk into Dean's Court and have a look at one of the great architect's less elaborate pieces. Here, on the west side of the Court, behind a black painted gateway is the old Cathedral Deanery, built by the master in 1670. For many years it was the principal residence of the Dean's of St Paul's but is now converted to commercial premises.
Also in the Court were the offices controlling the issue of marriage certificates, the offices of the Vicar General, and the consistory courts. The House of Doctors of Law, known as 'Doctors Commons', occupied a site on the east side of the Court. From this house the 'Doctors' attended to the detail of civil law and held court until modifications to the legal system caused their activities to amalgamated with the High Court. The 'Commons' was closed down in 1867. Adjacent to this building, in St Paul's Churchyard, was the 'Paule Head Tavern' where the local printers who congregated around the Cathedral haggled the best deal with their clients.
Having wandered these few yards, and before beating a hasty retreat for the first bus to Trafalgar Square, continue to the end of Dean's Court and turn right into Carter Lane. Look up at the Latin inscription on the old choir house of 1875, now a Youth Hostel, and then walk on to explore the tributaries to the right and left.
One of the earliest buildings ever to occupy this site was Exeter House, built by Bishop Stapldon in the early 1320's as the London residence of the Bishop's of Exeter. Unfortunately Stapledon happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and in 1326 was set upon by a demonstrating mob, dragged from his horse and relieved of his head by a flying butchers knife. When Henry VIII decided to split from the Church of Rome this house became the property of the Crown and was leased to William Paget who promptly renamed it Paget House. Then came Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and bosom pal of Elizabeth I. Learning that Paget House was up for grabs he visited the Queen to test the ground, and finding her in a receptive mood - Elizabeth was not the most predictable of characters - he laid before her his longing to live in the suburbs of the Temple. What an element of surprise came to his face when the Queen granted him a life long tenancy - but it was only play-acting, Devereux knew all along that he could twist the sovereign round his little finger. So harmonious was their friendship that it must have landed on him like a ton of bricks when he found out some years later that Elizabeth had transferred her affections and he was no longer in favour. To obtain revenge, Essex engineered a plot to overthrow the Queen, but when she heard of his pranks, took no time in issuing the order 'off with his head'. He was escorted to the block on Tower Hill in 1601.
By 1675 the Crown had no further use for the property and along with adjoining buildings it was sold to Nicholas Barbon (see Crane Court). In his usual style he demolished everything in sight and erected his own designed houses on the land. Devereux Court was described in the late 17th century as 'a large place with good houses, and by reason of its vicinity to the Temple hath a good resort, consisting of public houses and noted coffee houses.'
The court has a somewhat quaint atmosphere although the present buildings are mainly of mock Georgian, built in the 1950's. The Devereux Hotel was the old Grecian Coffee House, so labelled from having been started in 1652 by a Greek named Constantine. He not only served the beverage but held classes of instruction in the art of infusing the beans. Most of the great characters of Fleet Street, writers, poets, and plain talkers visited the Grecian Coffee House, but take the evidence from the first edition of the Tatler which gives an outline of the character of selected coffee houses: 'all poetry from Will's, all foreign and domestic news from St James', and all leaned articles from the Grecian.' The Grecian coffee house folded up in 1842.
Whilst the Devereux Hotel received a facelift in 1845 it remains elegant and has the appearance of a stately country hotel. The interior of the Devereux is well in keeping with its exterior, - oak panelling and some fine oak furniture. It is understandable that, with the Temple next door, its clientele come chiefly from the legal profession. It achieved fame many years ago as the consulting rooms of Mrs Sarah Mapp who was renowned for her bone setting techniques.
Devereux Court also boasts a second public house, the Sir Edgar Wallace, built in 1777 on the site of Essex House. Although its address is 40 Essex Street it does have a side entrance onto the Court. The house received some refurbishment a few years ago and in the process changed its name. It was originally the Essex Head where in 1783 Dr Johnson set up a club 'to ensure himself society in the evenings for three days a week'. On introducing Boswell to the club, Johnson declared him to be 'a very clubable man'.
Twinings, the tea merchants opened their first shop at number 9 Devereux Court in 1710 and the company own the building to this day.
The George public house on the Strand, by Devereux Court
In the 16th century, Jasper Fisher, a Clerk to the Court of Chancery and dealer in precious metals, built his house on the site of Devonshire Square, with a long drive giving access from Bishopsgate (Street). Considering his modest means, the house was one of the most sumptuous in the area with landscaped gardens and an array of bowling alleys for the entertainment of guests. But Fisher had a major failing - one of never ending debt. He would have been the type of customer out of whom today's credit-card companies survive, never repaying one loan before taking out another. Whenever he stepped out onto the street he was laughed at, people made fun of his life style and locally the house became known as Fisher's Folly. Eventually, a combination of debt and the intolerable antics of his neighbours forced Fisher to sell up at a price well below the cost of building the house.
In all probability the next owner, William Cavendish, 2nd Earl of Devonshire, had heard of the conditions surrounding the imminent sale and offered a figure which Fisher would have loved to refuse but due to circumstances was bound to accept. 'Fishers Folly' was renamed Devonshire House and Devonshire Row became the scene of frequent activity with coaches of the many guests rumbling along the drive (Devonshire Row) to circle round the large forecourt which now forms Devonshire Square. Charles II, on his returned to the throne in 1660 was entertained here by the wife of the 3rd Earl. When she died in 1675 her son had no use for the house and leased it to Nicholas Barbon (see Crane Court) who in his true style demolished it only two years later.
All is still very much as it was in the 17th century except that the buildings have changed, but it is quite possible to stand in the square and visualise coaches circling the central flower bed and drawing up at the mansion steps. On the east side of the Square is a corner of Cutlers Gardens, a successfully blended mixture of modern office buildings and preserved 18th century warehouses of the East India Company. The complex incorporates some attractive gardens and fountains but unfortunately it is out of bounds to the general public.
The Bull Inn has stood in Devonshire Row since the early 16th century although the present hostelry covers only a fragment of the original site. Probably the most eligible contender for the title of famous regular at the Bull was Thomas Hobson who from his profitable stables hired horses to the Cambridge coach operators. So that each horse was given a fare rest his firm condition of hire was that they were to be taken in strict rotation, which probably gave rise to the colloquialism 'Hobson's choice' - take it or leave it.
In 1678 Henry Compton, Bishop of London, authorised the building of a new church on part of the land, then called St Giles Fields, and the creation of a parish to be carved out of the northern part of the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields. The church was to be dedicated to St Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and also to honour Princess Anne, later to be crowned Queen Anne. However, residents in the new parish were few and far between, and had they gone ahead and built the church straight away it may well have closed down the following year through lack of support.
St Anne's was not built until 1686, but in the meantime Richard Frith, a builder and landowner, had taken the initiative to lay out a series of streets on the site of the Fields in readiness to make a killing out of the prospective wealthy property seekers. Frith started his project with good intentions but he was useless at financial management. When nearing completion of the work his creditors became anxious for the repayment of substantial loans and in 1683, unable to meet his commitments, he was forced into bankruptcy.
Dean Street, one of the earliest streets in the project, was built by Frith in 1678, and almost ten years after his decline the Crown Inn was erected among his line of houses. It was accompanied by a passage leading along side the inn to connect Dean Street with the newly built Great Chapel Street. In those times, the great influence of the monarch caused many inns, taverns, streets, and courts to be called 'crown', and in later years the identification of specific locations was surrounded by total confusion. For this reason the translation to Diadem Court, which signifies a crown or tiara, contributed to easing the situation.
Two black painted standard lamps stand neatly in line down the centre of the paved Court, where at number three is Reingold House with elegant iron railings around the cellar cavity. The Department of Social Security have an office at the Great Chapel Street end of the Court and there is a French restaurant on the corner of Dean Street.
A short walk away at number 88 Dean Street is a charming Rococo shop front dating from 1791. This shop is now a stationers and newsagents but at some time in history it was probably more dedicated to the sale of confectionery. On one of the windows are the remaining letters of an old 'Rowntree' sign. Sir James Thornhill, artist of the dome of St Paul's Cathedral lived at number 75 Dean Street, and in the same house Edward Baily worked on the design of his statue of Lord Nelson for the column in Trafalgar Square.
Who (or what) Doby was is not apparent but it does appear that the Court has been here since at least the 13th century. Before the Great Fire, the site was occupied by the Glaziers Company Hall together with a number of houses occupied by City merchants. Until quite recent years Doby Court was much longer than at present, opening out at its northern end in a yard where, turning right, a covered passage led to Queen Street. All in this vicinity has now been rebuilt and the Court is dominated by modern but unobtrusive structures faced in red brick.
Skinners Lane, for years associated with the Skinners' Company of Dowgate Hill, is now modern and due to the decline in their trade the many furriers who once had their stores along here have now departed. Although the quaintness has to some extent gone the same way as the old inhabitants, it is appropriate that the developers have seen fit too retain the shiny cobblestones in both Doby Court and Skinners Lane.
In the course of delving into the history of London's byways it quickly becomes apparent that a large number of them owe their very existence to events associated with the Reformation. During the mid 16th century London was thrown into turmoil through the antics of Henry VIII, and bishops, most of whom kept houses in the Capital for the convenience of attending Parliament, were given orders to leave. If Henry had not turfed the Bishop of Salisbury out of his town house, the name of Dorset Buildings would never have existed. But, in keeping with the trend at the time, the Bishop was given notice to quit and Henry gave the house to the Sackville family, Earls of Dorset. The house, which was renamed to Dorset House, occupied the site now covered by Dorset Rise and Dorset Buildings; it faced onto Salisbury Square which was then the courtyard and was accessed by the main carriage driveway from Fleet Street - Salisbury Court.
Dorset House caught fire on the morning of the 4th September 1666, but strangely, this was when the Great Fire was still almost half a mile away, devouring the precincts of St Paul's. Flames leaping from the roof were spotted by the Duke of York's Barge Master who summoned instant assistance from the already over burdened fire fighters. They came at once and brought the suspicious fire under control, but as the great furnace from the east leapt the Fleet Ditch and into Fleet Street they were driven away by the intense heat. Dorset House and all around it fell at the mercy of the mighty incinerator.
There are no houses here now. Much of this area has been caught in the grips of modern development but Dorset Buildings remains - a narrow cul-de-sac lined with buildings of recent construction.
Dover Yard is roughly sited at the position marking the boundary of land owned by the Earl of Dover and that of Lord Berkeley. In 1664 Lord Berkeley built a sumptuous house just to the north, naming it Berkeley House, from whence Berkeley Square gets its name. The adjoining gardens covered numerous acres and reached and extended southward as far as Piccadilly. His Lordship died in 1678 and his widow, it seems, was advised to lease some of the land for development - a move which ultimately raised £1000 per annum in rents. Berkeley Street, lined with palatial houses emerged from the plans and quickly gained favour among aristocratic circles. By the end of the century it had developed into one of the most fashionable and sought after areas of London.
In 1697 Berkeley House was acquired by the Earl of Devonshire where his family lived until it was destroyed by fire in 1733. A rather less imposing building, Devonshire House, was erected on the site in 1755 by the third Duke of Devonshire and it continued as the family's principal London home until it was sold in 1918. The house remained vacant until 1924 when it was demolished and replaced by the six storey commercial building also named Devonshire House.
Dover Yard, although relating to the Earl of Dover, was actually built on Berkeley's land. It probably gave access to the servants entrance of one of the large houses and would also be the parking bay for the masters coach.
The Yard has now been transferred and is now given over to the parking of parking of coaches of a different design, forming, in its entirety, the car park for the Holiday Inn Hotel, although the off-set access passages at both ends still remain. It is not an attractive place and has nothing to offer in the way of pleasures, save that of the narrow covered entry into Dover Street. Here, in this section, is the only address in Dover Yard - that of Marlborough Graphics.
Leaving aside the unlikely possibility that a Mr Dragon was once a resident of the Yard, it must be concluded that the site was at some time occupied by a tavern of that name. Had the suggested tavern been some 800 yards further to the east it might have been reasonable to assume that reference was to the dragon of the City but the intervening distance is too great to bear any relationship. The Holborn Library and Council Offices building, which occupies the site adjacent to Dragon Yard, were closed early in 1993. Its foundation stone was laid on the 27th October 1906 by the Lord Mayor William Robert Smith. The Offices and Library opened for business in 1908 following removal from their previous location in Gray's Inn Road. Dragon Yard, which runs around the rear of this building is still visible, overgrown with weeds, but now inaccessible.
Most, if not all, of the gardens attached to the company halls and the large City houses of bygone days have long since disappeared. Like Drapers Gardens, their names now merely serve as a reminder of the luscious green spaces that filled these areas behind the great streets. There is no trace of any garden here now, not even a blade of wild grass between the well ordered paving slabs. To wander through this and the neighbouring byways a few years ago was like turning the clock back a century or more, but Drapers Gardens still has a certain charm, conveying the sense of being in some secluded street of an old town.
For Drapers' Hall, of which this plot of land formed the garden, we must look to the south east, on the north side of Throgmorton Street. Its history goes back to about 1530 when the land to the north, on either side of the present Throgmorton Avenue was occupied by a number of small houses each with substantial gardens. At that time Thomas Cromwell had risen through the offices of Master of the King's Jewels, Lord Privy Seal, Vicar General and by a favour of Henry VIII was made Earl of Essex. He was not a man to argue with and through his close association with the King was in a position to make outrageous demands on the suffering public. On the spur of the moment he ousted the tenants of a row of small cottages on the north side of Throgmorton Street and on the site built his own spacious mansion. Behind the house there was left an ample plot for laying out a rather grand garden, but greedy Cromwell was not satisfied, he wanted more, and so deprived his neighbours of their plots. Without any prior notification his men arrived one morning to take down the fencing between the gardens and to erect a high wall close to the rear of the houses. John Stow tells us that his father had a garden on the site, a short distance from Cromwell's house. He reveals that a nearby house was raised from the ground, set upon rollers, moved some twenty two feet and set down in his fathers garden. Quite naturally old man Stow was not too pleased and when he went to ask the foreman for an explanation he was told in no uncertain terms that their master, Sir Thomas, had commanded them to carry out the work; 'no man durst go to argue the matter, but each man lost his land...'.
As a result of an altercation with the King, Thomas Cromwell was deprived of his head in 1540 and the following year the house was purchased by the Drapers' Company for use as their Hall. The Drapers had existed as a brotherhood since the 12th century but were not incorporated until 1364 by a charter granted by Edward III. They had at first conducted their business in the convent church of St Mary of Bethlehem outside Bishopsgate, and later secured a lease on the house of Sir John Hend (Lord Mayor in 1391 and 1404) on the site of number 19 St Swithin's Lane. Here the Drapers remained, overseeing the trade and feasting at banquets until their move to Throgmorton Street.
In 1607 the Company were granted a completely new charter incorporating them as 'The Masters and Wardens and Brethren and Sister of the Guild or Fraternity of Blessed Mary the Virgin of the Mystery of Drapers of the City of London'. By this charter the Drapers organise their Company to the present day.
On the 4th September 1666 Drapers' Hall was burnt to the ground but one of their members had previously observed the direction of the fire and hastily removed the silverware to a pit in the garden; thus it was saved. At this point the uncharitable act committed by Cromwell proved to be a saving grace; in the open space behind the Hall the fire was starved of fuel and turned on another course.
Within a few years a new Hall had been built and the Drapers were back in residence, but less than a hundred years later disaster struck once again. Another fire left the Hall so badly damaged that major renovation work had to be carried out. In 1866 the Drapers commissioned the architect Herbert Williams to re-style their Hall and add a new front aspect. Finally, after damage in World War II, Drapers' Hall was once more put into the hands of the builders for renovation work in 1949.
The Drapers' Company is the third City Livery Company in order of civic precedence.
Duke's Yard is quite literally a yard, although, straying from the normally accepted structure of a yard (usually a short narrow passage widening into a spacious area), it is wide enough throughout its length to be termed a road, with an opening at both ends. Provision of a convenient link between Duke Street and Binney Street now seems to be the most significant function of this nobly named thoroughfare . During the late 18th century Duke's Yard sat in the midst of London's most fashionable shopping centre, until a steady move towards the east in the early 19th century saw most of the exclusive trader relocated around Bond Street. Finding a shop in the immediate neighbouring streets of Duke's Yard is now almost as difficult as prising a bit of black-pudding from a vampire. Deserted of emporia as they are, Duke's Yard can still boast a corner newsagent's, and on the opposite corner, situated in Duke Street Mansions, built in 1887 of ornate red brick, there is a dry cleaners shop, no less. Like the 'Mansions', much of this north-west corner of Mayfair was rebuilt between 1870 and 1899 in red brick and terracotta; a colour particularly favoured by the 3rd Duke of Westminster. There are no pointers indicating the particular duke who inspired the naming of the Yard and Street; needless to say, his name was Grosvenor.
Dissecting the small triangle formed by High Holborn and New Oxford Street, Dunn's Passage was probably built purely as a cut-through between the two streets. The continuous wall of the Post Office borders the western side and AET Security Systems are on the east side but there are no building accesses in the Passage. Its name most likely commemorates a previous resident or the builder.
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